Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 Day 3: Excavation Begins

We were able to begin excavating today, despite a few sprinkles here and there.  We had a large crew of 20 volunteers who opened 7 5x5ft excavation units.  This year, as in previous seasons, we are in search of the foundations of the the Joseph Howland homestead.  Most of the excavation units are located in an area where we believe one of the foundations may be.  We are also searching for evidence of the previous excavations of 1959 and 1969.  Therefore we are not only looking for definite foundations but also for areas of sterile, previously excavated soil.

Clockwise from top:  Mike, Sarah, Michael, and Ellen excavated the northeastern units.

In the foreground, Carolyn, Alex, and Pam excavate one of the southwestern units.
Dave, one of the professional archaeologists, explains the plan of attack in Eldon's unit.

It is still too early in the week to determine if we are in the right spot, but the crew made excellent progress.  Of course an important part of excavating is the screening process.  Soil from the units is put into a bucket and taken to one of the screens where it is sifted in order to find smaller artifacts like nails, cermanic sherds, and glass fragments.

Betty and Alex screen soil from the unit Alex is working in.
Dick and Jan screen through soil from Jan's unit

We excavate units in layers or levels.  We determine that we have reached a new level when there is a noticable color or consistency change in the soil.  The only way to notice these levels is if we dig slowly with trowels and keep the unit as even as possible.  Once a new layer is reached, the unit is cleaned of any loose soil and large roots and looks like this:

Then, measurements of the depth and composition of the soil are recorded.  If necessary, a plan or map will be drawn of the unit.  It is imperative that we take all these detailed notes so we will have a complete understanding of the site.  Also, these notes are invaluable for research because once something has been excavated, it can never be excavated again.  There are no re-do's in archaeology.

Sometimes, there will be what we call a "feature" in the unit.  A feature can be a number of things such as a ring of stones, a foundation, a trash pit, a hearth, or even a circular section of soil that is darker in color than the soil in the rest of the unit.  When that type of feature is discovered, it will often be excavated seperately from the rest of the unit in order to determine what it is.  These circles of different colored soil usually indicate a hole or depression.  These holes could be evidence of a post hole, a looter's pit, or even an animal burrow. Any of these things could be present on the Joseph Howland site.

Melody investigates a feature in her unit that was close to the surface.  This may have been a looter's pit.
Looting has been an issue on the Howland property over the years.
Tomorrow we will continue to take the 7 units down to the next levels.  However, one unit gave us a glimpse of what to expect.  In this case, a large tree stump needed to be removed and the hole which it left was excavated. It seems that two large rocks may be in the next level.  Only more time will tell what that may indicate.

To be continued...

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